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Grapefruiting 2009: Clearwater 101

The sweet, clean air of the Florida coast warms your face. Look to your left, it’s a beach. Look to your right, it’s a beach. Look ahead, and it’s clear driving on a straightaway. The windows are down, the radio is blasting. You’re in your Phillies t-shirt and Phillies cap, and of course, a pair of shorts. As the road broadens, you see it ahead: Welcome to Clearwater.

Then you shake your head and smile — you almost forgot where you were. You’re at Spring Training.

Basically, it’s an open Florida town

Clearwater, Fla., population 108,000. But for a few weeks between February and March, the population spikes to — oh who knows. The city is bombarded by Phillies fans from near and far; die-hards who travel down to the coast to see their favorite team spend some time gearing up for the big regular season. The best part about Clearwater is its accessibility: Getting from Tampa International Airport to the Carpenter Complex is a cinch.

First, here’s the Clearwater area:

Now, as you can see (or squint), Clearwater is right on the coast. Route 60 gets you into Clearwater from Tampa (that’s the highway I was metaphorically spitting about in the introduction). Once you get into Clearwater and past I-19, it’s one light. That light is Old Coachman Road. Make a right. Go past Drew Street. Look to your right — there it is: Brighthouse Networks Field.

The Carpenter Complex is not too far away, also to the right. Which is pretty cool.

Four, four, four in one!

Why is it pretty cool? Because it’s four, four, four fields in one place (the heading should’ve clued you in). The complex is basically one giant square, and each fourth of the square is another field, aptly named after the four Mount Rushmore Phillies (Schmidt, Carlton, Roberts, Ashburn). This is where your Phillies work out — sometimes you can spot the AAA group on one field, the AA group on another, the A+ group on another and the A group on the fourth. Other times you’ll see rookie ballers doing their thing. College kids — they’re there too.

Back to the town

Now, besides catching practice and games, there are myriad things to do in the Clearwater area.

There are golf courses (20 in the area).

There are bars and clubs (probably 2,000 in the area).

There are restaurants (including the original Hooters).

There are beaches (everywhere).

There are other practices and games (Yankees, Blue Jays, Reds, Pirates, Rays).

Personal aside

I spent my three days in Clearwater last year going to two games (one at Brighthouse, one in Dunedin), one day of practices at Carpenter, visiting a friend in St. Petersburg, going to four bars over two nights and finding one Sonic (before Sonic opened on Street Road in Philadelphia, mind you). That’s pretty good for three days. But I promise this year will be even better.

And you should, too.

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